Although mental health affects all genders, it is oftentimes overlooked in men, considered a weakness if they are struggling with it, or not taken as seriously. Because of this, many men may find it difficult to speak up about their mental illness or be more reluctant to seek treatment to help them manage their symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 15.1% of adult American men were diagnosed with any type of mental illness in 2017.4 The American Psychological Association reports that 9% of men have feelings of anxiety or depression on a daily basis; 1 in 3 of these men took medication because of these feelings and 1 in 4 spoke to a mental health professional about it.5
At some point in their lives, 30.6% of men reported experiencing a period of depression.5 Men also account for 3.5 times the number of suicides as women.7 While women are more likely to attempt it, men are more likely to succeed.5 In the U.S., out of 20.2 million adults with a substance abuse disorder, 50.5% or 10.2 million adults, had a co-occurring mental illness.2 Of those with a dual diagnosis, more than half are men.6
Despite the effects of mental illness, almost two-thirds of people with mental health disorders never seek treatment.8 Men often only reach out for help when they feel they’ve hit “rock bottom,” and others don’t seek help at all.7 Seeking treatment is one of the most important and effective ways someone with mental illness can take to improve the quality of their lives. Since men and women are often affected by mental health disorders in different ways (such as different symptoms or triggers), it can be helpful to look for a mental health professional who specializes in men’s health.
What Factors Can Lead to Male Mental Health Issues?
A range of factors can contribute to the development of mental health issues in men, such as:
- Sexism: Men who strongly conform to typical masculine norms may be more likely to have poorer mental health.9
- Trauma: This could include extreme emotional events such as being sexually abused, experiencing combat, or being in high stress situations regularly (e.g., firefighters or policemen). For example, 65% of men who are raped will develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).10 Witnessing a violent event or being in a war can also increase the risk of anxiety disorders like PTSD.11
- Poor working conditions or a high workload: Work stress and a lack of social support have been associated with a higher likelihood of mental health issues in men.12
- Traditional gender roles: This can include feeling pressure to be a provider or societal norms that discourage men from talking about their feelings.13
- Childhood abuse/family issues: Any detrimental issue that occurs in childhood can lead to an increased risk of mental health disorders in adulthood.14
- Loss of work: Unemployment and retirement are associated with an increased risk of depression in men. One in 7 men who lose their jobs become depressed.15
- Separation and divorce: Often, men tend to see themselves as being providers and the one to keep the family happy. Depression is more prevalent and more severe among divorced men.15 is it different-separation
- Financial issues: Economic factors are a top cause of stress for many people and could play a role in the development of certain mental health disorders.
- Substance abuse: Men may be more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with mental health issues, though such ‘self-medication’ can make things worse in the long run.15
What’s the Stigma for Men?
Since birth, men are typically taught to be strong, to become leaders and that emotions are a sign of weakness, not masculinity.11 It’s the idea that “real men don’t ask for help,” and as such, those who adhere to stereotypical masculine norms, may be resistant to seek therapy.7,16,17 There is also the notion that talking about it won’t help anyway, yet ignoring mental health disorders will not make them go away.7
At the same time, research on men’s health issues is given relatively low priority. Lack of funding and attention can perpetuate the mistaken belief that “no one” cares about men’s mental health.16 Men also don’t want to be a burden to others—if they can fix it on their own, they will.7 However, not discussing these feelings with family or friends can cause social isolation, exacerbate relationship difficulties, and worsen feelings of depression.
These stigmas are particularly dangerous for men because they are less likely to seek help and more likely than women to turn to dangerous or unhealthy behaviors (such as substance abuse). They are also more likely to make successful suicide attempts, with the suicide rate among men being 4 times higher than in women.19
How Is Mental Health Treated?
Diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders in men can sometimes be difficult due to “cultural conditioning that discourages expression of depressed mood.”20 However, with the increased use of gender-sensitive assessment strategies and interventions, mental health professionals may be more likely to be able to provide proper and accurate diagnoses to men who seek help. Mental illness is diagnosed following a thorough assessment and screening by a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or clinical social worker.
A wide range of therapies may be used to treat mental health disorders, depending on the specific issue. Some of these therapies include:21,22
- Psychotherapy. This includes individual counseling with a private therapist, or group therapy. Psychotherapy can help you uncover and work through specific issues that may have contributed to mental health issues as well as teach you improved coping skills.
- Behavioral therapies. You may participate in cognitive behavioral therapy to address negative, unhealthy thought patterns and make positive changes to behavior, or dialectical behavior therapy, which is often used to help people who have borderline personality disorder or suicidal behavior.
- Medication. Different medications are prescribed for various mental illnesses. For example, certain antidepressants are helpful in the treatment of both depression and anxiety. Medications are usually used in conjunction with psychotherapy for the best results.
Improving your physical health can also have a positive influence on your mental health. In fact, aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep, improve your mood and self-esteem, reduce social isolation (when performed in a group setting), and reduce stress and anxiety.23,24
Modern techniques, such as web-based interventions and electronic health (e-health) tools, are also being increasingly developed and utilized to reach out to men who might not otherwise seek help. These interventions may feel safer and easier to access for depressed men who are not comfortable seeking traditional mental health treatment.25
Benefits of Seeking Treatment
Treatment can provide a number of important benefits, such as:26
- Helping you understand your condition.
- Reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.
- Enabling you to set and achieve specific wellness goals.
- Improving your ability to deal with stress.
- Helping improve your relationships with family and friends.
- Reducing or eliminating negative or destructive behaviors, like overeating or overspending.
Peer support and group counseling can be particularly helpful and can help destigmatize mental illness. Many organizations offer assistance with mental health disorders, such as:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a free text service for people in crisis (text “NAMI” to 741-741) and a hotline (1-800-950-NAMI) to answer questions about mental health and provide referrals.
- The National Institute of Mental Health offers has an online behavioral health treatment locator, as well as a hotline (1-800-662-HELP) to call to receive information on mental health and referrals to treatment providers.
Some organizations that specialize in men’s health and mental health issues include:
- The Movember Foundation: Focuses on men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, as well as men’s mental illness and suicide prevention.
- HeadsUpGuys: This organization focuses on helping males with depression by providing information, tips, and tools about professional services and success stories.
- Face It Foundation: This foundation aims to help men understand and overcome depression and to reduce the rate of male suicide by providing support groups, one-on-one peer support, outreach events, public education, and training for mental health professionals.
- Men’s Health Arkive: This company was founded with the intent of creating a social platform for men with mental health issues. They currently offer a forum for males to connect with other men and a separate forum for men to connect with researchers, mental healthcare professionals, educators, and institutions so they can receive expert information.
. Our World in Data. (2018). Global mental health: five key insights which emerge from the data.
. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health By The Numbers.
. NHS Digital. (2014). Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.
. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Mental Illness.
. American Psychological Association. (2015). UPFRONT By the numbers Men and depression. Monitor on Psychology, 46(11), 13.
. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017). Dual Diagnosis.
. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). 5 Myths That Prevent Men From Fighting Depression.
. World Health Organization. (2001). World Health Report: Mental disorders affect one in four people.
. American Psychological Association. (2016). Sexism May Be Harmful to Men's Mental Health.
. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics.
. University of Rochester Medical Center. Men and Mental Illness.
. Lee, N., Roche, A., Duraisingam, V., Fischer, J. & Cameron, J. (2014) Effective interventions for mental health in male-dominated workplaces. Mental Health Review Journal, 19(4), 237-250.
. Smith, D. T., Mouzon, D. M., & Elliott, M. (2018). Reviewing the assumptions about men's mental health: An exploration of the gender binary. American Journal of Men's Health, 12(1), 78–89.
. Springer, K. W., Sheridan, J., Kuo, D., & Carnes, M. (2003). The long-term health outcomes of childhood abuse. An overview and a call to action. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18(10), 864–870.
. Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2015). Depression and Men.
. Canadian Mental Health Association. Men and Mental Illness.
. Seidler, Z., Dawes, A., Rice, S., Oliffe, J. & Dhillon, H. (2016). The role of masculinity in men's help-seeking for depression: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 49, 106-118.
. National Alliance on Mental Illness. LGBTQ.
. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Suicide.
. Cochran, S. & Rabinowitz, F. (2003). Gender-sensitive recommendations for assessment and treatment of depression in men. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(2), 132-140.
. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health Treatment & Services.
. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Mental Health Medications.
. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.
. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.
. Fogarty A., Proudfoot, J., Whittle, E., Clarke, J., Player, M., Christensen, H. & Wilhelm, K. (2017). Preliminary evaluation of a brief web and mobile phone intervention for men with depression: men’s positive coping strategies and associated depression, resilience, and work and social functioning. JMIR Ment Health 4(3):e33.
. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Therapy.